The US Cup ProXCT Series resumes Friday at the Carmichael Training Systems Sand Creek International Classic in Colorado Springs. Nearly all of the top North American professional racers are expected to be on hand to compete in short track and cross country racing at Cheyenne Mountain State Park.
At this fourth stop on the ProXCT circuit, Max Plaxton (Team Sho-Air/Specialized) leads the series by a mere five points over his teammate Sid Taberlay. While Plaxton has not won a race this season, he has been the most consistent rider on the podium.
Similarly, Georgia Gould (Luna Women's MTB) leads her teammate Catherine Pendrel by ten points. Gould took wins in Fontana and Sea Otter, while Pendrel won the most recent outing in Alabama. Pendrel is currently the number one ranked rider in the world based on UCI points.
The course at Cheyenne Mountain State Park appears to be quite different than the racers have seen this year. The five- mile laps have 1,070 feet of climbing. Basically the racers ride uphill for 2.5 miles, then downhill the same distance. The starting elevation is 6,070 feet, making it the first race at elevation for much of the professional field. The average grade is 7.7% but there are up to a half dozen short climbs of 15%, and one around 30% according to the course profile.
Conditions at the moment are fast and dry. The course is a mix of fire roads and singletrack, with a couple of rock gardens thrown in for fun. Still, it will rate on the low on the scale as far as technical difficulty for the professionals. The racers may find the thin air more of an obstacle than the rocks on the course.
Geoff Kabush (Team Rocky Mountain/Maxxis), the defending series champion, had an uncharacteristically poor race in Alabama where he failed to make the podium. At the time, Kabush said he was planning to do a little "homework" to sort out his difficulties. There is little doubt he will try to bring his A-Game to Colorado Springs.
Sid Taberlay (Team Sho-Air/Specialized) has been the most dominating North American mountain biker this season, taking several Kenda Cup and Pro-XCT wins. He has now proven that he can compete with Kabush and the other North Americans who race the World Cup circuit.
"The course is like riding on ball bearings - very unpredictable cornering, you actually pick up speed when braking!" said Taberlay.
Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski (Gary Fisher/Subaru) proved in Alabama that he was coming onto form, narrowly losing the race in a sprint finish. A Boulder, Colorado, resident, JHK won last weekend's Teva Games in Vail. He has been tailoring his season to peak for the US National Championships. They too will be held at altitude in Granby, Colorado. Todd Wells (Specialzied), a Durango Colorado resident, is also ferociously competitive in Colorado races. There is little doubt he will be at the front mixing it up with the leaders. United States National Champion Adam Craig (Giant) is winless this season, as is former champion Ryan Trebon (Kona). Both will be looking to have break-out races. Trebon has proven in the past that he can win high altitude races as he did last season in Deer Valley, Utah.
A dark horse in the men's race will surely be Jeremiah Bishop (Mona Vie/Cannondale) who has largely turned his attention to endurance racing, but who won the Kenda Cup race in Virginia last weekend. In fact, he won the Mohichan 100 and Dirt Sweat n' Gears races before that.
United States cyclo-cross Champion Katie Compton (Spike Shooter) has thrown a monkey wrench into the Luna dominance of women's racing. When she was forced out of the ProXCT in Alabama due to an asthma attack, she was riding comfortably in a group of three at the front of the race. She came back this past weekend to beat Georgia Gould and Heather Irmiger convincingly at the Teva Games in Vail. Compton and Kelli Emmett (Giant) live in Colorado Springs and may have a home course advantage. They often train together, which has been described by Emmett as quite challenging.
It is yet to be seen whether the Colorado Springs race will favor power riders like Compton and Gould, climbers like Pendrel and Irmiger, or descenders like Emmett. Other women expected to be in the mix this weekend are Pua Sawicki (Ellsworth) and Willow Koerber (Gary Fisher/Specialized).
"I think the course sounds good- different than what we've raced on so far," said Gould. "One thing I love about racing mountain bikes is that to be successful you have to be good on all types of courses."
"It sounds like there is a lot of climbing which will be decisive…," she said. "The elevation could play into it, but I don't think that it's high enough to make-or-break anyone's race."
The second stop of the Trailwatch.net Short Track Series presented by Escape Adventures takes place on Friday. Todd Wells is leading the series and has to be considered a favorite, especially at this altitude. He won the first race of the series at the Sea Otter Classic.
United States Champion Jeremiah Bishop (MonaVie/Cannondale) will be racing as well in one of the few short track appearances he is expected to make this season. Geoff Kabush, Jeremy-Horgan Kobelski, Barry Wicks, and Max Plaxton would all seem to have a shot at victory. In fact, Kabush may have won more short track races than the others combined.
The women's short track race may be most exciting of the weekend. United States Champion Katie Compton, if healthy, is a powerhouse on these types of short courses. The "Queen" of North American short track racing, Katerina Nash (Luna Women's MTB), showed in Alabama that she was coming into form after a late season start. Nash, a citizen of the Czech Republic, did not race against Compton in the US Championships.
Georgia Gould and Catherine Pendrel are capable of winning as well. The big question is whether Compton can deal with the team tactics of having three Luna women up front. The women's series is now up for grabs since rising star Emily Batty (Trek Bicycle Store), the winner at Sea Otter, will not be racing.
This will be many racers first visit to Colorado Springs for a national race. Sitting in the shadow of Pike's Peak, famous for the 1860s gold rush, the city has grown dramatically over the past decade. The metropolitan area is now home to over 600,000 people. In 2006, it was awarded "Best Big City" in Money Magazine's series on best places to live in the United States.